Sacred centre of Ancient Greece

Evan and his companions leave Corinth to go to Delphi so they can meet with Pythia, who has information regarding the sacred relic. This is according to the information Evan was given by a chance encounter with a mysterious woman. To get to central Greece, they need to hire a boat to sail across the Gulf of Corinth and this is where they meet Jason and his crew, the Argonauts.

Ruins of the ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi, overlooking the valley of Phocis.
By Skyring – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64170779

Delphi has been occupied since 4,000 BCE, small settlements who worshiped Mother Earth through to the Mycenaean occupation (15th – 11th century BCE). According to mythology, the site was protected by Gaia’s son, Python, who was later killed by Apollo. From the 11th century BCE onwards, the site of Delphi came under the jurisdiction of Apollo.

Delphi was also known as the centre of the world, omphalos, this was where Zeus sent two eagles from opposite ends of the universe to locate the midpoint. When the eagles landed at Delphi, Zeus named it the omphalos, and erected in it’s place is a large oval stone, approx. 5ft tall. You can see it there today at the site near Apollo’s Temple.

From the 8th century BCE onwards, Delphi became the place to visit for oracular predictions. Pythia was renown throughout the ancient world for her accurate prophecies. So great was the reputation of the Delphic Oracle, Croesus, King of Lydia, sent to the oracle golden offerings and asked:

…whether he should go to war against the Persian Empire and the oracle replied: “If Croesus goes to war he will destroy a great empire.” Pleased by this answer, Croesus made his necessary alliances and preparations and went out to meet the Persian army at the Halys River.
Croesus, Ancient History Encyclopaedia

He did destroy a great empire, his own. Perhaps Croesus needed to listen to the old adage ‘be careful what you wish for’. Nevertheless, Pythia was popular and famous, and in turn the priests of Apollo attained a lot of wealth. You wanted to hear what she had to say, you had better have something of value to offer in return, otherwise you didn’t an appointment with the Oracle.

Priestess of Delphi
Painted by John Collier
1891
Courtesy of Wikimedia

Why did Pythia need priests? Apparently, they were the only ones who could interpret the garbled message she gave. Archaeologists and geologists have identified where the Temple of Apollo is situated, there is a fissure in the ground where emissions emanate from. These hydrocarbon gasses, made up of methane, ethane, propane, butane, pentane and hexane, causes a person to hallucinate. This was where Pythia sat over, on a tripod seat, inhaled the vapours, and then give the forecast of the future depending on the question put to her.

A number of her predictions did come true, though it did come down to interpretation. For example, during the Persian War, Xerxes was about to invade Greece, and the Athenians sent an envoy to Delphi to get advice from Pythia. She gave them two. The first one they didn’t like, and sent a second envoy who returned with this:

Though all else shall be taken, Zeus, the all-seeing, grants that the wooden wall only shall not fail.
The Greeks, PBS

It was Themistocles whose voice of reason got through to the Assembly. He said it was the fleet they were building that would protect Athens. The battle at Salamis testified to his argument.

Delphi and Pythia were a very important religious and political centre of Greece, right up to when the Romans conquered in the second century BCE, where General Sylla seized all its treasures to fund his war against Athens. Eventually, Delphi fell in the first century BCE, and its eternal flame extinguished by the Thracians.

Thank you for your continued support and as always, I look forward to your comments and will respond.

Historical fiction novelist and a secondary teacher, Luciana Cavallaro, burnt out…https://mailchi.mp/00e4312cdcce/heras-story

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10 thoughts on “Sacred centre of Ancient Greece

  1. Hi Luciana,

    Loved your post about Delphi and the oracle, Pythia. This gives provides insightful a historical backdrop to your recent book, “The Labyrinthine Journey.” Of particular interest to me is that archaeologists and geologists identified a fissure in the ground where emissions emanated which could cause hallucinogenic effects. These are a potent mixture of organic gases that could cause a real high. Thank you for sharing your knowledge of this time period in Ancient Greece. Best wishes for a lovely holiday season, my friend.

    Best,
    Linnea

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Linnea,

      Thank you!
      It was one of those snippets of research I came across, which is why I love ancient history and researching. You always find interesting gems of information.
      Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas and New Year.
      Best wishes dear friend,
      Luciana

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Cathleen!
      I daresay some of the interpretations were quite inventive, LOL. Though she (and other Pythias’ that followed) had the most reputable and accurate of predictions.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post, cara Luciana,
    I knew that Delphi was known as the centre of the world (omphalos)… But I didn´t know the story behind it… Menaing that Zeus had sent two eagles from opposite ends of the universe to locate the midpoint, which was precisely Delphi, where the eagles landed at Delphi.
    Also I learnt here that the priest were not simple companions, but that they had a role as interpreters of cryptic oracular messages.
    The account involving Croesus is fascinating and reminds us that we shouldn´t read certain messages just literally… This anecdote made me think of Eodipus Rex, as the Oracle (of Delphi!) had also being elusive, ambiguous in that case. It had told Oedipus that he would murder his father and marry his mother… Oedipus thought that by running away from his city, this prophecy would not come trrue. But, not a minor detail… Oedipus didn´t know who they real parents were. Eventually, he wouldn´t be able to avoid his own Fate. The Oracle was right…
    Thank you for sharing!. Love & best wishes. Merry Christmas! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • Grazie tante, cara Aquileana 😀
      I had forgotten about Oedipus and what the Oracle told him! I will now go back and read the story. Thank you. It certainly didn’t work out for him either. It comes down to what we want to hear rather listening for the meaning of the words. So easy to do, and I know I do this, and has landed me into interesting situations!!
      Buona Festa e Buon Anno, xxx 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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